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Transforming from an underground crooner to a Top Ten-charting rapper in just over a year, Charlotte MC DaBaby's rise has been nothing but meteoric. Every part the genuine article, the rapper blends cockiness, charm, and humor into a vibrant persona, a recipient of the crowd-winning charisma of artists like Missy Elliott and Ski Mask the Slump God. When paired with impressive technical skill and a clear musical vision, DaBaby's success seemed inevitable, and this winning formula has produced some of the most infectious rap of 2019 so far. Yet there can always be too much of a good thing; with 12 mixtapes and two albums released in just three years, the rapper needed to find a way to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, his sophomore album, Kirk, comes as a mixed bag. Despite adding some newfound perks to Baby's production, the album's rehashed lyrics and flows give Kirk an air of stagnation.

DaBaby's best material has typically been scored by bouncy, electronic-led loops. "Taking It Out" would have lacked oomph without its breakneck-paced production, while the piano-like warbles of "Gorilla Glu" lent it a menacing swagger. Though we see this mimicked to varying degrees of success in Kirk's "Vibez" and "Raw Shit," there's some refreshing variation, too. Along with expressive pianos on "Gospel" and a club-inspired bounce on "Really," eighth track "Toes" treats us to some Wild West-inspired trap. While production is certainly one of the project's stronger points, missteps are equally frequent. The bass on "Off the Rip" is painfully bland, and the strings of "Prolly Heard" have been far better employed on tracks like Gunna's "Who You Foolin" and Higher Brothers' "Wudidong."

Of course, a DaBaby release comes with a certain set of lyrical staples: charismatic boasts come with reassuring regularity, and there are enough "jit"s and "ain't no cap in my rap"s to bring the record back home. Given the right production, Baby's charisma can carry them forward, with "Toes" and "There He Go" landing firmly in the upper ranks of his catalog. Yet we often see Baby struggle to sustain Kirk's longer tracks; recycled flows and repetitive lyrics drain the life from "Bop" and "Raw Shit" in particular.

Despite Kirk's reliance on repetition, there is one utterly unique track here: "Intro." Discarding Baby's blanket braggadocio and style, the song is his most personal work to date. Amid descriptions of his mother's battle with cancer and his own internalized misery, he reflects on the death of his father with the cutting "How the f*ck I make it to the top, same day I lost the n*gga that had me?" But one stellar track does not a stellar album make. Despite the singular brilliance of "Intro" (and some standout bangers in "Toes," "There He Go," and "XXL"), most of the project falls into mediocrity. While newer production tricks add some kick to DaBaby's formula, stagnant lyrics and monotonous flows present him as an artist unwilling to change; swamped by slushy imitations of his best work, the gems on Kirk aren't given the platform to shine.

1 Intro 2:52
2 Off the Rip 1:55
3 Bop 2:39
4 Vibez 2:24
5 Pop Star 3:03
     feat. Kevin Gates
6 Gospel 3:34
     feat. Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane, YK Osiris
7 iPhone 3:11
     with Nicki Minaj
8 Toes 2:16
     feat. Lil Baby & MoneyBagg Yo
9 Really 2:19
     feat. Stunna 4 Vegas
10 Prolly Heard 2:23
11 Raw Shit 3:36
     feat. Migos
12 There He Go 2:23
13 XXL 2:33